By Tait Brimacombe
Recently the Institute for Human Security and Social Change, alongside the University of NSW, co-hosted a communication for development (C4D) event in the lead up to the ACFID University Network Conference, taking advantage of the skills and expertise in town for the ACFID Conference. The event – C4D Approaches in the NGO Sector and Academia – sought to bring together practitioners and academics for an afternoon of knowledge sharing and networking for improved practice.
Twenty-six participants joined us for an afternoon at La Trobe’s City Campus, beginning with a series of short presentations outlining a variety of research and practical approaches to C4D; followed by a Q&A style workshop. We were fortunate to hear presentations from ABC International outlining their work and approaches in the C4D space; as well as a presentation from RedR exploring communication with communities in times of natural disaster and emergency. In addition to these more practice focused presentations, we heard from a variety of academics outlining their approaches to researching C4D and preliminary findings of such research.
Despite a wide-variety of presentations and a diverse range of participants, there were some common themes to be drawn out of the event, many of which came out in the post-presentation workshop and discussion. Responding to presentations on ‘innovation’ in C4D, and development more broadly, participants acknowledged a tension between donor preference for ‘innovation’ alongside the need for sustainability and consistency. Practitioners reflected on the benefit of innovation – encouraging creative thinking and modification – while acknowledging that the often exhausting quest for innovation can come at the expense of continuity. Is this quest for innovation often relegated to nothing more than a re-branding and re-labeling of existing work as something ‘new’ and ‘sexy’?
In addition, the influx of new communication technologies – such as the internet and mobile phones – in the C4D realm raises the question of how these technologies can be used to promote inclusive communication, while remaining loyal to the media and communication ecologies of local communities. To what extent is it the role of development practitioners to introduce new technologies, or instead to simply find ways of working with existing technologies all the while aware of the potential for rapid technological shifts?
Participants from the Asia-Pacific Journalism Centre (APJC) sought feedback from the group on the role of media development in the C4D space, particularly the distinction between media FOR development (the use of mainstream media platforms to disseminate a social development message, or as a platform for voice, information and dialogue) and development OF the media (capacity building of journalists, training for media producers, technical assistance to the mainstream media space). After much debate, it was acknowledged that development of the media is a pre-requisite in order for media for development to occur; but it was cautioned that a sole focus on mainstream media comes at the expense of acknowledging more participatory, two-way communication platforms including community media and social media. As such, there was general consensus that C4D requires a multi-platform focus in order to successfully promote positive social change.